Transforming Abuse through Mutual Submission (Eph 5:18b-21)

Transforming Abuse through Mutual Submission (Eph 5:18b-21)

Consider a basic revenge flick such as “Taken,” or “The Revenant.” These movies often begin with a shocking injustice — the murder or abduction of a child, for example. The body of the film is then dedicated to the protagonist’s struggle to balance the scales of justice, so to speak, by chasing, outwitting, outmaneuvering, etc.,  the “bad guys” and finally taking sweet revenge. Twists and turns occur along the way, but classic revenge flicks often make us question the logic behind the violence portrayed on screen. Don’t get me wrong, injustice demands a response, and it should always make us upset. However, most revenge stories end in a spectacle of bloodletting, but the sacrifice leaves us unfulfilled, unconvinced that the cycle of abuse is truly ended. If revenge fails to transform injustice, how else might we respond, what kind of response does justice demands?

In many ways, chapter four and five of Ephesians address the above question, describing a better kind of response to “the darkness of injustice.” At the end of chapter four, the reader is first urged to avoid certain activities: “don’t engage in lustful greed” (4:19), for example. And then, in chapter five, there is a call to expose the harm: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11-12). The author repeats these two imperatives — abstain and expose — along with a third: the author calls the reader to pursue change by transforming relationships defined by greed and abuse. We read,

“Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

  • 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
  • 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:18b-21)

Although speech, song, and thanksgiving are important factors in transformation, I will focus on the third command, one whose dutiful terminology makes us squeamish: submit to one another. The term is even stranger if you consider how it’s used in our text. Think about it, if we all submit to each other, in a conventional sense, nothing would ever get done. Understanding mutual submission in Ephesians, therefore, requires expanding how we think about what it means to submit. For this reason, I want to push our understanding of this concept and see how mutual submission might be capable of transforming our relationships.

Before exploring our examples it important to stress that nothing said below should suggest for a moment that those experiencing abuse ought to submit to their abusers or let the harm continue. On the contrary, before pursuing transformation the author calls us to expose the darkness, naming the abusive relationship for what it is and putting a stop to injury. Addressing the fundamental issues behind abuse, however, demands more. Such a solution often requires a long, arduous journey of recovery.

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Repent and Burn (Matthew 3:7-12)

Repent and Burn (Matthew 3:7-12)

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

Repent and Burn: The Baptism of John the Baptiser

In apocalyptic style, John the Baptist introduces us to three components of Christ’s kingdom of peace: repentance, the Holy Spirit, and fire (Matthew 3:7-12). What comes after is often referred to as “Christ’s Baptism,” but if we consider the examples below and the exegesis that follows, it’s clear that John experiences a kind of baptism as well.

Regrettably, my wife Jenica did the vast majority of our wedding planning on her own. It’s no surprise that my failure to offer help was a source of conflict on several occasions. For example, one evening, while Jenica was making wedding invitations, I looked up from my computer to realize that she was gone. Distracted, I hadn’t noticed her leave the room. Often when Jen’s upset she wisely disappears to cool-off before evaluating the situation. So when I realized that I was alone with a mountain of unfinished invitations, I knew something was amiss.  

The feeling I had at that moment is something I think we’ve all experienced. It’s the moment we realize that we’ve let down those we depend on. Jen expected my help. It was our wedding after all and weddings take at least two people, not counting all the support contributed by family and friends. Repentance, I want to argue, is the realization that we don’t do life on our own. We depend on a power greater than ourselves — friends, family, neighbors, government, water, soil, oxygen and in these God.

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Judas’ offence (Mark 14:10-21)

Judas’ offence (Mark 14:10-21)

This post was originally presented as a sermon at The Commons and published on their blog.

The gospels are not shy in their portrayal of the way the disciple’s struggle to understand Christ’s potentially life-changing lessons. Part of this difficulty is due to the offensive nature of Christ’s message. In most gospels, it’s not difficult to understand how Christ offends the teachers of the law. Less clear is the way Christ offends his disciples. In the Gospel of Mark, we find evidence of at least two disciples, Peter and Judas, offended by Christ’s teaching. The offence takes place in the moments leading up to and following Christ’s arrest.

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A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

A Reflection on the word “Apostle”

This reflection originated out of a request from The Commons to talk on my favourite apostle. 

The New Testament describes the way Christ’s disciples become apostles. This word “apostle” means, literally, “to send away.” In order to send someone away, he or she must first be with you. The apostles must have been at some point in the presence of Christ before he dismissed them before he sent them away. And it is this event — the send-off — from which their title is derived. Typically Christians focus on being with Christ, following close behind him, being “Christ-like.” However, to be an apostle means something a little different; it emphasizes a departure from Christ, a commission.

My two adorable little boys follow Jen and me everywhere as they learn, grow, and mature. But a day will come when they must be sent out from under our feet into the world where, as Leland likes to say, it’s “too sunny”. The shift from child to young adult or disciple to apostle is a significant movement. Continue reading

Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer to The Book of Revelation

Apocalyptic Literature: A Primer to The Book of Revelation

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.

I remember growing up thinking that the Book of Revelation was impossible to understand. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to acquire a “toehold” on the meaning of the text. This came through a better understanding of the history of apocalyptic writing and a few of its distinctive markers.

What does the word apocalyptic mean?

Often we think the word “apocalyptic” refers to the end times or the destruction of the world. This is partially correct. But a more accurate description defines apocalyptic as the transition between historical ages. As a description of a historical transition, apocalyptic literature describes the old age coming to an end as it experiences destruction and then the beginning of a new age.

Although there are many distinctive characteristics of Apocalyptic literature, I want to consider two: that it originates in oppressive situations and that it uses insider language.

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Job, The Rich Man

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog .

XIR84999Although considered the oldest book of the Bible, the Book of Job was probably recorded around the same period as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Isaiah, during what’s known as the period of Exile. During this time period a number of Israeli tribes were taken captive by Babylon (Daniel, in fact, is one of these captives). At the time it was recorded many in Israel would have identified with Job. Like Job, the Israelites felt their current lot in life was unfair, that the scale of life was imbalanced. From their perspective, God shouldn’t have handed them over to their enemies, just as Job shouldn’t have been handed over to Satan.

Before considering Job’s suffering, I’d like to reflect on the imbalanced scale in my own life.

Last week I volunteered a lot of my time. I spent three and a half days helping my father-in-law replace the roof on his greenhouse, which is over a square acre in size. This was dangerous work. We had to walk the gutters between the peaks of the greenhouse roofs that were three stories high without harness or support. The slightest breeze could have easily swept the giant piece of plastic from the house and us with it. Then, yesterday, after helping my father-in-law, I went to my father’s and helped butcher turkeys. I’m not complaining, I enjoyed the hard work. It made me consider, however, the debts we owe one another.

We have a saying, Dad and me, that volunteer work among friends and family is “money in the bank”, meaning when you volunteer for friends and family the other is in your debt. Thinking about this, however, I realized that the balance of father and my father-in-law was pretty skewed to their side. I owe them so much that no amount of volunteer work on my part could ever satisfy my debt. This is true for many of us, we owe a tremendous amount to our parents or parent figures. For some, however, with irresponsible parents, the scales are imbalanced in the opposite direction, their parents actually owe them. And, it’s entirely possible that these irresponsible parents will never be able to atone for their mistakes. In general, however, I think it’s true that the youth carries a debt that will never be returned. It’s only because of the grace of our parents or past generations that we are free to live ordinary lives.

At best, our parents and our inheritance encourages us to live on, using what’s been given us. Through their mercy, we are freed from our impossibly large debt and blessed to transcend the gift given.

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The Homeless God

The Homeless God

This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog.

Westview Christian Fellowship is located in the Queenston neighbourhood, a district in St. Catharines that has abnormally high rates of poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy. Westview has become a strong community partner through sharing its resource and expertise with a women’s Centre, Westview Centre4Women. The Centre provides refuge, community, and a variety of services for women living in the Queenston neighbourhood. Although the Centre was initiated by the church as a response to a need in St. Catharines’ downtown context, the Centre, in turn, responded to needs in the church when some of the participants became involved in leadership and support.  Last year a number of women from the Centre expressed interest in an introductory course on Christianity. After trying the Alpha program, an evangelistic program which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith, we decided to create our own curriculum to better suit our situation.

While considering this neighbourhood and the request for a course on Christianity, I was struck by one of the many compelling arguments found in Nik Ansell’s most recent book, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. Simply stated, Nik argues that Scripture is a story about the work of God and humanity making a home, a place in this world defined by care, respect, and love—something many struggle with in Queenston. This got my imagination turning: if creation is God’s domestic homemaking skills at work, was God homeless before he turned on the lights? Does God experience similar feelings and challenges as those associated with homelessness?* It’s a strange speculative thought, that creation emerges out of a God forsaken space, a space Moltmann argues is within God, akin to a woman’s womb. Continue reading